Pine Tree Cricket

by Carl Strang

One of the nicest aspects of scientific inquiry is the discovery of other people pursuing shared interests. My own study of singing insects in northeast Illinois, northwest Indiana and adjacent counties in Wisconsin and Indiana has placed me in contact with Gideon Ney, whose pursuit of coneheaded katydid evolution in his Ph.D. thesis work at the University of Missouri has added the marsh conehead and slightly musical conehead to the region’s species list. Dennis Nyberg and associates at the University of Illinois Chicago have led me to the short-grass prairie cicada. Botanist Scott Namestnik and I have collaborated in mapping the regional distribution of Roesel’s katydids.  Lisa Rainsong conducts a similar regional survey of species in the Cleveland area, allowing a valuable comparison of notes. And now I owe my thanks to Nancy Collins for introducing me to the pine tree cricket. Nancy is one of those rare people who develop such a strong interest in some aspect of natural history that they go on to make genuine contributions to science. She has traveled through the U.S. and into Central America searching for tree crickets, and has been involved in the discovery of new species. Her website provides an excellent overview of this charming group of insects.

Nancy came out to the Bong Recreation Area when I was surveying the southeast Wisconsin counties a couple of weeks ago, and helped me learn to recognize the song of the pine tree cricket. She also provided a male for me to photograph and record in an isolated indoor setting.

Pine tree cricket, recovering from a few minutes in the freezer to slow him down so I could photograph him.

Pine tree cricket, recovering from a few minutes in the freezer to slow him down so I could photograph him.

And the ventral view. At some point I will risk a more lifelike pose with him warmer and more active.

And the ventral view. At some point I will risk a more lifelike pose with him warmer and more active.

I had not focused on this species because the references seemed to indicate that it is only on the fringe of my area. Thanks to Nancy I now expect to find pine tree crickets throughout the survey area. Already I have found two populations in DuPage County, for instance, one of them at Mayslake where I work, and the other two miles from my home, at Fermilab. The Fermi population is particularly instructive, because the groves of conifers hosting the crickets are widely separated by expanses of prairie. This is a small insect with a narrowly defined habitat, but impressive dispersal ability. I suspect they have been able to jump around mainly by their affinity for red cedars, which readily spring up in open areas where birds disperse their seeds after eating the berry-like cones.

The song is not particularly intrusive, but easily recognized if you know what to listen for. Approach a large grove of coniferous trees in late summer or early autumn, late afternoon or early evening, and listen for a steady, high-pitched, sweet-toned trill. No other singing insect in the region has this peculiar attachment to conifers. The song of a single cricket is not particularly loud, but a chorus of them adds up significantly, and I had no trouble hearing those at Fermilab as I passed the spruces and cedars on my bicycle. Interestingly, and somewhat ironically, there were fewer in the pine groves.

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6 Comments

  1. James C. Trager said,

    September 27, 2013 at 6:55 am

    Interesting. When Nancy visited the St. Louis area about a year ago, we didn’t see any, but we heard them way up high in Norway spruces, but not in nearby pines so much.

  2. September 27, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Thank you for highlighting a tree cricket in your blog. It’s a big boost for my efforts to gain more recognition and appreciation for tree crickets.

  3. September 27, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Very exciting! Excellent find, Carl. I’ll have to listen for these in pine plantations in northern Indiana.

  4. Austin said,

    September 13, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    A few years late to this thread. Today I found what appears to be a male pine tree cricket in our Batavia back yard, its dark color and more robust appearance told me this was something I have not seen before, I do have a few photos for extra confirmation, admittedly very close to fermilab so perhaps not that unlikely a find. I will keep overnight to see if I can get a song record.

    • natureinquiries said,

      September 15, 2016 at 5:47 am

      Pine tree crickets seem to be pretty ubiquitous in groves of conifers, and if the one you found has the red body of spruce twigs and the pine-green wings, there’s no question. The only other tree cricket in our area that gets dark is Forbes’s, which tends to blacks and yellow-greens rather than reds and pine-greens. It is abundant in goldenrod meadows and brushy edges.

      • Austin said,

        September 15, 2016 at 6:53 am

        I’m quite sure it is the pine tree cricket in that case, is there a way I can get a photo to you for your second opinion? There are a few pines in this immediate are but typically landscaping specimens adjacent to broadleaf and shrubby areas.


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